For a brief period in high school I was a highly active member of a wondrous little website called Wotmania.com, a fan site for The Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan. That site was my LIFE for about two years and it was so much more than just a place to geek out.
Shit, when I finally accepted that I was gay the first thing I did after calling my sister almost in tears and coming out to her was write up a post for the Wotmania community message board. I had been flirting up so many boys ‘round those parts no one was surprised, but everyone was amazingly supportive. It felt great to have so much encouragement, even if it only came in the form of text and emoticons.
I had a Wotmania account long before I jumped on the Facebook bandwagon and I have to say, I’m glad I did. It felt amazing to be completely open and honest with people who really cared; or at least made a good show of pretending to care. Sure there were embarrassing moments, like getting caught having cybersex in the chartroom (I never did live that one down, and don’t you judge me, I was like 16 and a 16 year-old erection isn’t too picky), or explaining to my parents IRL that this site and these people were perfectly safe and would not attempt to abduct me and sell me into the international sex trade while they watched over my shoulder as I surfed the message board.
I called these people my “friends” in everyday parlance because I couldn’t think of what else to say. What do you call someone whom you’ve never met but with whom you share intimate details of your life? I never could figure out an adequate way to explain my relationship with my fellow “Wotmaniacs” (what we frequenters called ourselves), or how to convince those around me that I could actually trust people they saw as total strangers. These Wotmaniacs didn’t feel like strangers to me; they truly felt like the closest of friends. Sure there was some anonymity, but I think its almost easier to be totally honest with someone whose face you’ve never seen because it feels less dangerous. They might judge you harshly, but who cares? It’s not like you’re going to see them around any time soon, you live in Minnesota and they live in England, or wherever Melbourne is.
Even though Wotmania went offline a few years ago I still think about my time there, and how those people touched my life. In the last year I’ve grown pretty uptight about online communication, ratcheting up my Facebook privacy settings and changing passwords that until now had been the same for years, and I sometimes wonder if I could again open myself up to strangers the way I did in my Wotmania days.
I suppose the technical answer to that would be “yes”; but only because I’ve created and deleted two profiles on a gay dating website that may or may not have included nekkid photos. None of that business really means anything; those profiles were created out of sheer horniness and were meant for nothing more than fulfilling that desire. There was no “real” communication beyond the most basic necessary civilities and there was no need of such a thing.
I honestly doubt that I could ever build the types of relationships I did at Wotmania again because I’m older and a lot more cynical/paranoid. Many former Wotmaniacs relocated to a new site together (run by some former Wotmania admins) and while that site’s homepage in still in my Safari Top Sites I rarely visit it. Too much has changed, there are too many screen names I don’t recognize and though both sites share an almost identical design, the new one isn’t where I used to log in to bitch about my ninth grade girlfriend who wouldn’t sit by me at lunch and where I wrote shitty, cryptic poetry in my public journal (I’m a little sad I didn’t decide to preserve my old Wotmania journal, it was a beautiful view of my mid-teen “I’m super deep and complicated” years).
These days, the time that I would have spent at Wotmania is given up to Facebook (where I do remain in contact with a number of my dearest Wotmaniac friends, though I have yet to meet any of them in person) where I share things with my friends whom live outside of the Internet. I do miss Wotmania occasionally, but I don’t think I’ll be looking for another place like it any time soon. My friends from the Internet will always live on in a little corner of my heart and I owe them a lot of thanks for helping me navigate my teenage years but I’m now aboard the good ship of my 20s and I’ve got to get real. No more hiding behind screen names or anything fun like that. Sigh.